March Madness 2019: Zion Williamson exits NCAA tournament, joins other unforgettable college players to never win a title
Williamson will almost surely be a one-and-done, but he's joining some pretty good company
One of the few constants of college basketball is that things don't go as expected. Duke was the runaway favorite to win the NCAA Tournament this year, led by the likes of Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett. However, with the Blue Devils' abrupt exit at the hands of Michigan State on Sunday (after hanging on by the skin of their teeth against UCF and Virginia Tech), it looks like Williamson will end his college career without a title.
It goes without saying that not every one-and-done can be Anthony Davis. Kentucky in 2011-12 was a similarly loaded team, but it wasn't as top-heavy. Five guys on that Kentucky squad averaged double figures, only four guys on Duke's roster scored significant points.
So, with that in mind, let's take a look at some of the best players to share Zion's fate -- which is to say they were great, unforgettable college players who weren't able to notch a championship.
13. Adam Morrison, Gonzaga (2003-2005)
This is kind of a lifetime achievement award for Gonzaga, a team that feels like it really should have some championships to its name in the Mark Few-era but just hasn't gotten over the hump. Morrison showed steady improvement throughout his college career, culminating in his junior year when he averaged 28.1 points per game, won the US Basketball Writer's Association Player of the Year Award and led Gonzaga to a Sweet 16 berth, where it ultimately lost to UCLA.
Morrison became one of the biggest phenomenons in college basketball, and he helped elevate Gonzaga to more than a mid-major Cinderella squad.
12. Glenn Robinson, Purdue (1992-1993)
Glenn Robinson -- a.k.a. Big Dog -- went from Gary, Indiana to Purdue. He was a consensus All-American in both of his seasons and won the Wooden Award for the 1993-94 season. In the '94 tournament, Robinson led Purdue to an Elite Eight appearance, but the Boilermakers ultimately lost to Duke.
Robinson averaged 27.5 points per game for Purdue, highlighted by 30.3 in his sophomore year. In that same season, he hauled in over 10 rebounds per game and scored over 1,000 points total. Robinson scored 44 points just to get Purdue past Kansas in the Sweet 16, but an injury against Duke kept Robinson limited to 13 points.
11. Derrick Rose, Memphis (2007)
It feels like John Calipari has been with Kentucky for an eternity, but once upon a time he was at Memphis. Derrick Rose was one of his first huge one-and-done players. For what it's worth, we're not recognizing vacated wins as part of this piece, because Memphis' run to the National Championship game was completely insane. This team technically finished 0-1, but when that one loss was the National Championship, there's a story there.
Rose averaged nearly 21 points per game in tournament play after averaging 15 points for the regular season. Memphis was the country's most exciting team before losing an overtime thriller to Kansas. D-Rose then went pro after his one college season.
10. J.J. Redick, Duke (2002-2005)
J.J. Redick somehow became a staple of what everyone dislikes about Duke, and all he really did was make a lot of jumpers. Redick played for four years and in that time shot 40.6 percent from beyond the arc and 44.3 percent from the field. With Redick, Duke made three Sweet 16s and a Final Four, but something always seemed to trip the team up at the finish line.
Redick ended his career as a two-time consensus All-American and has a Wooden and Naismith Award to his name. He wasn't truly a leader of the team until his junior year, as Dahntay Jones and Luol Deng passed through when he was a freshman and a sophomore, respectively. Redick averaged 24.4 points per game and was the ACC Player of the Year for in both his junior and senior years. Although his Duke teams never got past the Final Four, he's now remembered as one of the definitive players in Duke's history -- for better or for worse.
9. Chris Webber, Michigan (1991-1992)
The Fab Five's story is well-known and the face of that team was Chris Webber. With Michigan, he averaged a cool 17.4 points per game, including a shade under 20 points as a sophomore. He also averaged 10 boards with the Wolverines... and less than one phantom timeout per game.
Webber played some of his best ball in the tourney and Michigan was a two-time national runner-up with C-Web paving the way (I already mentioned vacated wins don't count, right?). He averaged 17.8 points and 10.5 boards in postseason play, but Michigan was blown out by Duke in 1992 and edged out by North Carolina in 1993. He still became a major player in college basketball history -- let alone Michigan's.
8. Zion Williamson, Duke (2018)
OK, it's worth noting that Williamson hasn't declared for the draft yet, but we're going to assume for now that he will. He'd be the No. 1 overall pick no matter who gets it. Duke made it to the Elite Eight with Williamson leading an utterly stacked roster that included the likes of R.J. Barrett (another probable one-and-done), Cameron Reddish (whose stock has dropped but is still likely to come out for next year's draft) and Tre Jones. Williamson, however, is unarguably the draw in that ridiculous class.
He averaged 22.6 points and 8.9 boards per game, and his thunderous dunks became routine. It was apparent from the jump that Williamson was just built differently. This made it all the more shocking when Duke struggled against UCF and snuck by Virginia Tech, before losing to Michigan State in the tournament. Even though Williamson will end up going pro without a championship, his college season will be remembered by many. The Williamson hype machine was been completely off the rails this season.
7. Len Bias, Maryland (1982-1986)
Len Bias honed his game over four years to become one of college basketball's most well-rounded players. Bias was a two-time ACC Player of the Year and consensus All-American and his Maryland teams went to the Sweet 16 in 1984 and 1985. Over the course of his last two seasons, Bias averaged 21 points and seven rebounds per game.
By the time he was graduating college, Bias was being recognized as a generational type player, even drawing some comparisons to Michael Jordan. Bias died two days after the Celtics took him second overall in the NBA draft.
6. Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky (2014)
Karl-Anthony Towns spent most of his one year with Kentucky being groomed by Calipari for the NBA. KAT only played a shade over 20 minutes per game, though he started every one. He averaged just over 10 points per game to go with 6.7 rebounds. And yet Kentucky still made it to the Final Four. The team was just ridiculous, finishing 38-1 on the year. No one player blew the lid off, but it might have just been one of the deepest college basketball teams in NCAA history.
Nine players on Kentucky averaged 5.5-plus points per game and Willie Cauley-Stein had the highest average minutes per game at... 26. No one on the Wildcat roster got overworked. Come tournament time, that should have been a blessing. In the tourney, Towns averaged 14.2 points per game and about seven rebounds. He played 30-plus minutes for just the third time all season in the Final Four against Wisconsin, when one of college basketball's most dominant seasons ever came to an end in a 71-64 loss.
5. Kevin Durant, Texas (2006)
Kevin Durant was the surest thing since LeBron James (who didn't even have to go to college) when he went to Texas in 2006. He immediately lived up to the hype. Durant averaged 25.8 points per game in his one season with the Longhorns, not to mention 11.1 boards per game. Durant shot 47 percent from the field with Texas and he was the first freshman to win the Naismith Award.
Durant's No. 35 was retired before the draft. He might be the best one-and-done in NCAA history, let alone Texas. Durant immediately went pro and began what will eventually be a Hall of Fame career.
4. Jimmer Fredette, BYU (2007-2010)
Remember "The Jimmer?" If you don't, I envy you. Jimmer Fredette became a sensation at BYU, and it came to head in his senior year when he led BYU to the Sweet 16. Fredette shot a ridiculous 44 percent as a junior and hovered around 40 percent the next year. He won the Naismith Award, was a consensus All -American and had his No. 32 retired at BYU.
He also was the cause of this, which is 90 percent of the reason he's on this list and 100 percent of the reason I wish he didn't have to be.
3. Stephen Curry, Davidson (2006-2008)
Stephen Curry is probably the best shooter to ever grace an NBA court, but before that he completely blew everyone's minds with the Davidson Wildcats. Curry made it one of college basketball's premier mid-major Cinderellas with an improbable 2008 run that culminated in the school's third ever Elite Eight appearance. Curry would go on to have a Hall of Fame-caliber career with the Warriors, which he seems to be very much in the prime of.
Although Curry lacked the national accolades of other players on this list, his No. 30 is retired at Davidson. He shot 41 percent from beyond the arc with the Wildcats and was a two-time consensus All-American. However, Curry's biggest accomplishment in college was arguably being the leader of Davidson during its miraculous 2008 run.
2. Ralph Sampson, Virginia (1979-1982)
Ralph Sampson may have never put up video game scoring numbers, but he was still an outrageously steady player for four years with Virginia. Sampson averaged about 17 points and 11.5 rebounds in four seasons with the Cavaliers, and he was a three-time Naismith winner, a two-time Wooden Award winner and a three-time ACC Player of the Year. He was a constant force for Virginia and is one of the best players ever at the college level.
Virginia made the Elite Eight in 1981 and 1983, including a Final Four appearance in '81. And yet, Virginia is trying to make its first ever national championships appearance next weekend as it plays Auburn in the Final Four. Sampson left Virginia as one of college basketball's most decorated players and his career is looked upon as one of the top in NCAA history.
- Pete Maravich, LSU (1967-1969)
Pete Maravich's college career was completely and utterly insane. There's no way around it. To look back and say that a guy averaged 44.2 points over the course of three seasons and scored 3,667 points is something that most people wouldn't even believe. It's Gretzky-esque in terms of how untouchable it is. In spite of all of this, Maravich never even played in a tournament game -- although LSU was put on the map because of him. He was a three-time consensus All-American and he won the Naismith Award as well.
Looking at Maravich's achievements, wild is an understatement. The three-point shot didn't exist yet and he wasn't even allowed to play varsity ball as a freshman, which was an NCAA rule at the time. LSU's arena is now named after Maravich. The team's only postseason appearance with him came in 1970, when LSU finished fourth in the NIT Tournament with a loss to Army.
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